Flat White

What was that about swaggering sophomoric staffers?

6 October 2016

3:07 PM

6 October 2016

3:07 PM

Child LabourLong hours, bad coffee, average hotels and Virgin Lounge popcorn instead of a home cooked meal. It ain’t glamorous. It ain’t the West Wing.

I read with interest the words of ‘Robert Campbell’, the “sometime staffer” who dismissed an entire generation as ineligible for public service because of their youth.

This is not a defence of Jack Walker, the Christopher Pyne adviser who is currently languishing in a Malaysian gaol as part of the Budgie Nine (side note – whoever coined the term Budgie Nine deserves an AO for services to journalism).

Rather it is a defence of the young people – many of whom move across the country to work 16 hour days and live out of a suitcase – who Robert Campbell believes should be summarily dismissed due to their youth.

Campbell writes fondly of the trusted old hand advisers with policy experience. And yes there are many of them. But too quickly they come and go. Never-ending days and going weeks at a time without seeing your family can take its toll.

There is a reason why many advisers are young, childless and single. It is a thankless task and many do it out of simple loyalty to their boss.

Campbell talks of ‘West Wing-style images of riding VIP jets [and] post-run selfies with the Foreign Minister’ on their Instagram and ‘free booze and networking’ as if these advisers flit, Kardashian-like, from photo-op to function and do little real work.

If this was Campbell’s experience of life on the blue carpet then I wonder why he ever left!

The reality is not that exciting.

Between the infinite meetings, abusive phone calls (often from MPs without the guts to say it to their colleague – your boss); rent-seeking stakeholder lobbyists hassling you for a legislative change they are too incompetent to advocate for in the public sphere, and endless letter writing, these jobs can sometimes seem like glorified secretarial work.

Getting out of the office to grab a coffee world can be a brief respite, but even in that innocent act Campbell sees hubris and arrogance. Did one of these staffers cut you off in the Aussie’s queue? If you look closely, most of the young people in the Aussie’s queue look like zombies!

Like the soldier still fighting the finished war, Campbell defends the factionalised Credlin star-chamber as the model of HR recruitment – despite the fact it left cabinet ministers unable to appoint key staff and success was dependent on Peta’s opinion alone.

That the Turnbull government let ministers of the crown choose their own staff is not to be lamented – but should be seen as an indication of his office having confidence in his own colleagues.

That these ministers then chose to appoint some young advisers is not a surprise – it is an outcome of the reality of these jobs and of the policy agenda the government is pursuing.

Young staffers have the passion, the energy and the drive. They are a feature of both sides of politics. Young staffers are just as passionate about Australia’s policy direction as anyone, as they have the most to gain from a strong Australia.

The Ministerial Wing blue carpet bears little resemblance to Hollywood red, and the young men and women who are spending the best years of their lives hunched over a desk in Canberra should be applauded for their commitment.

Sally Bennett is a pseudonym for another sometime ministerial adviser

Read the final thrilling chapter of the staffer slug-fest here.

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